Finally, following our visit with St. Stephens where we left with future hopes of faculty and student exchanges, Mathews asked if he could take us to a rural village to show us the work of the Mar Thoma Seminary in north India. We were somewhat tired after having been in three Indian cities in five days and we were flying overnight to London to return home that evening. It was hot (close to 100 degrees and high humidity). We had driven over seven hours the day before to Agra along bumpy roads and heavy traffic. I was in a suit and tie and was really thinking, “no.” In a desire to be a gracious partner in ministry I said, “yes,” and we were off. We drove more than 2½ hours outside Delhi on roads that were quite challenging. As we moved further and further from the city, urban sprawl ended and there were farms as far as the eye could see. While there were a few nice homes most people appeared to live very humbly, and many were obviously in poverty. Cattle roamed loose on the roads. It was muddy from the rains, and the little Toyota Corolla often bounced around quite violently.
At this point I was feeling more than a little frustrated. I was thinking, “This may be a good experience, but what possible good could this do George Fox University? I could not convince any student to come out here!” There were no televisions, little electric power (read: no air conditioning), and Internet availability was non-existent. Clean water was difficult, to find and normal Western notions of cleanliness were absent. Mathews had noted that it would take us an hour to get to the seminary site, but when we passed two hours I thought, “Are we ever going to get there?”
C. S. Lewis in his book, Miracles, talked about how many people of his day approached God. “An impersonal God – well and good. A formless life-force surging through us – best of all. But God himself alive – the hunter, the King, the husband – that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion drawback. Supposing he found us . . .” Much of the time I think I am a dabbler, but on this day God found me.
Finally, we came to a small area, about five acres, with three buildings on it. The buildings were orange and red with a combination of brick and concrete construction. A group of smiling faces greeted us at the gate and invited us in the Lord’s name to come into their community. They had waited lunch on us (it was 2 p.m.), and Pastor George invited us into the common lunch. We were treated as honored guests. Students had prepared a special meal for us in hopes of our coming. They waited on us with great care and presented us with rice, Indian bread, a curry soup, and all kinds of wonderful fruit. Almost everything had been grown on the property. (I thought of Corey Beals as I looked out on the property!) They had developed a self-sustaining little community committed to training pastors for the rural people of north India.
God consistently puts me in circumstances where I will hear his voice even though I would prefer not to. The visit to this rural site proved to be the most meaningful of the entire trip. I have to admit that I was tired, and I was sweating up a storm in a suit (that I wore to go to St. Stephens), and it was the last place I thought God would have anything to say to me. Similar to Kochi, we were invited into chapel and Pastor George introduced me to one of the students who had given his life first to Christ and then to the ministry that year. Because of his new relationship with Christ, this student’s home had been burned to the ground, and he had been ostracized from his former community.
I did not know what to say. I was standing in an out-of-the-way little community of 40 people dedicated to Christ. Very few people in the world care about this community. Yet, perhaps more so than any other place I have been in the past few years, you could “feel” God’s presence. Under normal measures of success we would think they were failures: few converts, few churches, little measureable impact. But when I stood to speak to them in chapel every eye looked at me, and as I looked into their faces, I saw young people who had committed their own lives to God in ways that I could not understand. I started, “What a blessing of God for me to be here with you today.” Little did they know that I did not want to be there at all – a friend of mine and God had brought me.
On the ride back to the airport Mathews said he desperately wanted me to see this place in order for me to understand the different contexts of ministry. He noted that in India alone more than 600 million people lived their lives in much the same way that they have for hundreds of years. Mathews noted, “If you really want to have a cultural encounter for your students, you can have a real one here.” Here, ministers work every day to carry Jesus’ message to one person at a time in an effort to bring the grace of God to this corner of the world.
One of the joys of my summer was to spend a week in residence at C.S. Lewis’ home, the Kilns, under the teaching of Dr. Earl Palmer. In one of our sessions, Earl noted a passage in Lewis’ Silver Chair that relates to my experience outside Delhi. At one point early in the book Jill is very thirsty and she finds a stream, but there is a large lion (like the ones in Trafalgar Square) that appears to be guarding the water. She is afraid of the lion so she approaches carefully even though she is thirsty.
Jill: I am dying of thirst.
The Lion: Then drink.”
Jill: Could you turn aside while I drink?
The Lion: I make no promises.
Jill: Then I must go and look for another stream.
The Lion: There is no other stream.
Be known – do we really want our students to know God in an intimate way? The risk of “being known” is that God will ask you to receive His desires in your heart, and they may conflict with those you have already put there.
I learned much in India and hope future relationships will bring students and faculty to India so that they, too, may be immersed in a new context where God is at work.